My story involves an issue I speak on a lot: pay-for-play shows. A few summers ago, a promoter contacted an artist I was managing about opening up for T-Pain. Of course, instead of giving my client a chance to actually perform and profit, they wanted $1,000 bucks. They also wanted him to perform with 7 other guys, and they wanted this to take place 2-3 hours before T-Pain even comes on stage.
Total scam, right? How will this benefit my client? 7 other guys, makes it impossible for us to stand out - and I doubt we could pull $1,000 in merch that night to break even. Lastly, I don't think an artist should ever pay to perform their own art - so, kind of weary from the jump of all this.
However, this was a local gig, so I didn't want to pass up on an opportunity... but I also didn't want to get scammed out of $1,000 and have no return on investment. So, what did we do?
I emailed the venue and I emailed T-Pain's booking manager, whose details were pretty easy to find.
Two days later (at another regional gig), my client and my client alone, opened up for T-Pain. My client got paid - not the promoter - and we also made some profit off of merch sales.
But what did I do? I wrote two emails. That's it! That's all it took! Sure, the emails were well-written and my client has a nice EPK with live photos - but all it took to break free from the chains of sketchy pay-for-play, was two simple emails.
I tell this story a lot, and I tell it because some folks think that pay-for-play is the only way. And sadly, it's becoming almost the norm - but with some savvy and skill, you can still book paying gigs. Sometimes even snagging that opening spot for a large artist. All it takes is a pitch.
However, when I tell this - I'm met with a few questions. "What did the email say?" "How did you find the contact info?" "What made your EPK stand out?"
So, here are some common booking questions I get - and hopefully, they can help you, too!
Question One: What Does a Booking Pitch Look Like?
I would compare a booking pitch to a press pitch - but I find a lot that press pitches are also misunderstood. A proper pitch, no matter if it's for press or for a venue, should be brief, direct and to-the-point.
Also stats do better than flowery language.
A venue would rather hear that you recently completed a successful tour throughout the southwest, or that your Spotify streams are heaviest in their region over, "I am a hip hop mogul, coming from the often overlooked but poetic streets of Juniper, Indiana - where I wake up each day striving to fulfill my dreams of greatness."
Don't be poetic. Let's give stats.
Remember: You're an investment.
Let's say a venue pays you $1,000 to perform. At the end of the day, a venue books you - so you can put butts in seats, and boost drink sales. They need to make enough money to make a profit off that $1,000 they're investing in you.
So, what makes you investable? The beauty of it, this doesn't have to be cold-hard facts - but you atleast need to show that you can draw a crowd in your pitch. Here's a sample.
I'll be in the Seattle area early this spring, and I'd love to potentially be part of your booking calendar. I'm a touring hip hop artist from New Orleans, wtih healthy following throughout NoCal and Washington. I've played many shows in that region, and I'd love if you checked out my EPK and see if you'd be interested in having me perform when I'm in the area - or whever you have an availability.
Prior to Seattle we will be playing in surrounding venues such as:
- Moe's Tavern
- Johnny's Grill
- Slick Ricks
I'm including a streaming link to my music, but in my EPK you'll find live show images, past performance information and more.
And when you don't hear back - follow up! A lot of artists fail in actually taking the time to follow-up a few times before just giving in. And of course, deviate from the above! Change it up for yourself - but notice how I used stats - even vague stats - to showcase I have had experience. I talked about a healthy following in the area, as well as venues I've played or will be playing.
I also mention the EPK a few times, so, this leads me to a follow up question that I often get.
Question Two: What Should Be In My EPK?
I did a really in-depth article on EPKs in a previous column - check it out! I give a lot of details there about what makes a good EPK, what should be in it and more. Now, to ensure that your EPK is attrative to talent buyers and venues - here's what I suggest you include:
- Live Photos
Photoshoots are great - album art is great, any visual is good for an EPK. However, if you want to catch the attention of venues, be sure to include live photos, live footage and more. As long as it's professional and well-done, of course. You want to give these folks a taste of what you offer.
- Past/Future Shows
Whether it's a list of notable past performances, or a list of future ones - show venues that you're working and that other venues are buying into your talent. So, they should, too.
- Social Media Channels
While not 100% accurate, if you have an active social media following, it's more likely you will be a draw. So, be sure to show off your social media in your EPK.
Question Three: How Do I Find Booking Info?
Okay - there's some things that creep into marketing and the industry, that aren't "right", but it's becoming the norm. One of these things is promoters charging artists.
Let's be clear on this - the promoter is trying to make a quick buck off of you. Now, if you really want to pay $1.5K to open up for Lil Wayne - and there's a chance you can recoup that $1.5K off merch - go ahead. It's your money. But as I said before, it's a shady practice, and two emails can usually get you paid at a legitimate show.
Those two emails you send - aren't to the promoter either. Here's the thing: Promoters rent the venue - and put on a show to get that rental money back and then turn a profit. So, if they book Lil Wayne, they make money off ticket sales. If they charge you $1.5K to play.. that's even more money for them.
And 0 for you.
However, most of the time - venues put on and host shows too. No third parties - some even have staff solely dedicated to booking talent. And look - promoters or curators aren't all bad. In fact, I know dozens upon dozens who treat artist incredibly! But pay-for-play happens more with promoter-run events, than venue hosted shows.
So - I'm saying this all to say - look for the guy at the venue who books shows. Look for talent buyers and venue managers. Nine times out of ten.. it's as easy as going to the venues website. Or, picking up the phone and asking for the email of whoever handles booking.
It's that simple.
Question Three: What's Your Opinion on Booking Agents?
A booking agent is something that's often overlooked in hip hop - and I attribute this largely to the influx of these pay-for-play showcases. I really do.
However, a real, genuine, proper booking agent is a great tool in our industry. By "proper" and "geunine" I mean that they don't charge you. Most booking agents only take a cut of every show you make. Therefore, it isn't an expense to you - and they are incentivized to get you that gig.
While this is a great route to go - it's also just as good to go and book yourself, by simply generating a solid EPK and pitching yourself to venues.
Question Four: How Can I Ensure I Get Booked Again?
Relationships are key in our industry - so if you get booked, you need to keep in touch with that talent buyer/venue. Hell, send them a Christmas card, a thank you letter, new merch designs. From writers to venues - be good to them. Keep in touch with them.
Meet up with them for drinks before or even after the show when possible. These types of connects are your life-line.
Also - be sure to put on a quality show, be professional - show up early, have the proper equipment, and be courteous to any venue rules that they may have. Not to mention, perform well, sell a lot of merch and have fun.
Also, keep these contacts in a list - I use a Google Sheet, and update it everytime you seek new venues and get booked.
These are just four common questions I get asked. Got more questions? Want me to review your EPK or your social media? Simply hit me at http://www.wtylerconsulting.com